Kerala: Manage the landscape to protect wild jumbos

It was also felt that the cost of mitigation structures (overpasses and underpasses) should be built into the project cost.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is not crisis management but landscape management that is required to preserve elephant habitats. This was the consensus that emerged at the technical workshop on ‘Elephant Conservation in South Indian states’ that concluded here on Friday.

“If forest administration is in a crisis management mode, then it has to be considered a failure,” said Dr Rajan Gurukal, a senior scientist and the former VC of MG University. Dr Gurukal essentially wanted humans to concede the dominance of animals along habitats. He said the middle class, from which the bureaucracy mostly originates, could not be taught ecology and therefore could not think in terms of coexistence.

In other words, the workshop came to the conclusion that landscapes should be so maintained as to preclude a crisis. One way to do this would be to incorporate elephant conservation and habital requirements into the working plans of territorial division. The workshop also said that linear infrastructure projects (rail, road and canals) should be avoided within elephant ranges. “Where inevitable, it should be carried out after careful planning and impact-study assessments,” said conservator of forests Pramod G. Krishnan.

It was also felt that the cost of mitigation structures (overpasses and underpasses) should be built into the project cost. “In fact, the National Highway Authority of India had said that it would have done so had such an idea mooted before a major infrastructure work was taken,” said head of forest force Dr Anilkumar Bhardwaj. “This is a clear sign that we can do this in future,” he added.

Forest officials also called for an institutional mechanism for closer interaction among stakeholders like police, forest, road, rail, irrigation, power and local bodies. “Such a mechanism was necessary to synergise efforts and effectively deal with elephant conservation,” said Dr P.S. Easa, former Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) director.

The workshop also put forward a controversial recommendation. “A policy or legal directive should be issued regarding the conversion of plantation areas to natural forests along the edges of sanctuaries and national parks,” the resolution drafted at the culmination of the workshop said.

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